Cold Sassy Tree
Olive Ann Burns
To give away the first, say, chapter, it's about a boy who's about 14 years old living in a small southern town I'd guess a few decades after the end of the Civil War (his grandfather was in the Civil War when he was young and the town still won't celebrate Independence Day). The boy's grandmother has just died at the beginning of the book, and the boy's grandfather announces that he is going to remarry. The marriage is not approved of on several levels, there are many strains in the family relationships because of the marriage and other factors and the book follows the young boy watching this happening and trying to sort out his loyalties between the different members of his family. I suppose that the book is sad in places; it does show the boy facing the grief of loved ones dying and trying to understand race and class issues. But the style is light, and I found that despite the sometimes sad themes, I didn't find it a depressing book at all.
One thing that I particularly enjoyed was the descriptions of the small town that the boy lives in. There is a quote on the book cover that says something to the effect that in this town, if the minister's wife's slip peeks out from under her dress at church, the town will be talking about it for a week. And it describes the town perfectly. One of the themes in the book is whether you can really throw public opinion to the wind or if you do need to think about how your neighbors will react. What it means to be part of a family and what obligations and loyalties come with it is also a question which is explored.
There is certainly a plot to this book, but the way the plot is laid out is mostly through the boy narrating the story relating vignettes about his life. They aren't told in chronological order, so as you read the book more details about the life of the boy and his family are filled in until you have a complete picture at the end of the book. Some of the stories are quite funny. I don't know if I would classify Burns as a great writer, but she is a good storyteller and keeps your interest through the book.
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